According to a little snippet of info at the beginning of a Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie that pretty much shares its title with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma‘s album, every seven years we have one in which there’s not 12 but 13 full moons, signifying possible catastrophes. This cyclical disruption is integrated into the movie as the impossibility of a stable identity, a woman split in many halves that cannot be fully reconciled by logic or reason. In the case of the album, there is something similar at play – a melodic shroud that is as much a structure as it is the erasure of one, a massive instability that quietly, forcefully conveys the fragility of noise as it comes and goes from music. Like a love relationship (is there truly any other kind?), it melts and re-forms, it collapses into the noisy continuity of two poles being shared within each other only to dissolve and separate, elevating themselves back into what are apparently defined sounds. Ambiguity is the very heart of A Year With 13 Moons, a heart torn by the inevitable pain of knowing itself complete but feeling otherwise, always fading out, always fading in.
Recorded during a residency in the Headlands Center for the Arts in San Francisco, A Year is the result of hours upon hours of both in-studio material and more concréte elements, an integration of art and life not as a synthesis but as a stream, an indefinite flow of one into the other; with the album, it comes closer to yet another instance of a relationship, which, as we all know, is always an experience of fluidity, so much so that when it ends the heartache reverberates all the way up into the moon-lit unconsciousness that hastily draws each and every memory. There is, after all, one shoegaze-y melody that seems to recur along various points of the album, a singular desire (or a desire of singularity) come undone, de-materialized into a haze of drones and noise that opens up that emotional state into a wilderness of feeling and thought, signalling not an opposition but the point at which such desire remains, and will always remain, impossible.
There is nothing that is simple about it, and this interpretation only comes to mimic that relative tension under which the album is being explored before our very ears. If its identity is an impossible thing, then perhaps we cannot talk about either process (an attempt to build, to make discontinuity continuous) or sheer improv (a liberation, an ecstasy of sound that makes the continuous otherwise), and the name that might encompass both – drone – could not be apt to describe the very human, love-filled energy that lifts the music up and lets it fall. Like a memory, it is both presence and absence, longing and fulfilment, a catastrophe that heals (love itself). A Year is one of those albums that sticks with you after it’s over, and it’s best suited to be listened to when you’re in any situation where emotions run high, be they positive or negative, simply because it is the kind of music that lets you cloud what seems clear, opening up the limits to the thought of what once seemed impossible.
You will find a lot of Cantu-Ledesma’s past work in this, but A Year is, conceptually at least, his most complex yet. There are still remembrances of droning, of Fennesz and of other electronic experimentalists that like to destabilize definitions, but nevertheless it now feels different, less focused, less ambitious, much more personal and engaged at a low level, where the stakes are, perhaps, the highest: to speak of love at such a base form (as it vibrates through our hearing) without reducing it to sentimental images is a powerful artistic statement. Put your headphones on, put A Year in loop, and let yourself dissolve and take form once and again. (David Murrieta)